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Hamzah Jamjoom: The Ego

On January 9, Busboys and Poets (Takoma) hosted a conversation between the Saudi filmmaker Hamzah Jamjoom and John Hanshaw, Founder of the Washington Film Institute. Born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Hamzah Jamjoom is a writer, director, and actor currently based in Chicago. From a young age, Hamzah exposed himself to the art of storytelling and decided to study computer graphics animation. His first big break was the successful IMAX feature film titled Arabia 3D, where he was part of both the cast and the crew. As he began to acquire some recognition for his work through short films and music videos, he decided to use his position as a filmmaker and storyteller from the Arabic world, to subvert existing narratives surrounding the Middle East and the Islamic world and explore the various conflicts faced by the artist’s “ego”.

The main topic of last evening’s conversation was the artist’s ego, and the tendency of the artist to always want to present the best version of himself. Jamjoom explores the human ego through his more recent and upcoming artistic endeavors, particularly a sci-fi series on religion and the ego titled ‘Balance’ that he recently completed. He tackled a variety on questions from the audience towards the end of the conversation. These questions ranged from his own religious views to his experience working with Maher Zain, one of the most popular contemporary musicians of the Islamic world, who has previously worked with American pop artists such as Britney Spears and Lady Gaga.  At a time when most of society is deeply polarized along religious and political lines, artists such as Hamzah Jamjoom are making a huge contribution towards achieving some sort of understanding and stability by portraying various religious and cultural backgrounds through alternative discourses that challenge negative stereotypes.

In order to cultivate empathy and cross-cultural understanding, it is of vital importance to continue engaging in dialogue with people holding religious and political views that are very different from our own.

Interested in a scholarship for a Master’s degree in Business Administration at BAU International University in Washington, DC?

BAU International University (BAUI) is offering scholarships to three students referred by HasNa. If you are finishing your undergraduate studies or have recently graduated from college, you might be eligible to apply for a scholarship at BAU International University in Washington, D.C. HasNa can recommend three students per academic year for BAUI’s EMBA program, which has concentrations in Entrepreneurship, Global Affairs, and International Law and Economics. All you need to do is contact HasNa, and we will tell you the requirements for receiving a recommendation letter from HasNa.

 

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Phone: 202-223-1777

Email: pelin@hasna.org

The Power of Storytelling


ComeToMyVoice

On May 21, 2015, HasNa screened Hüseyin Karabey’s 2014 Turkish film, “Come to My Voice,” at the Avalon Theater in Washington, DC. It is a simple enough premise, but powerful in its ability to bring to light the realities of a typical Kurdish village’s unfortunate interactions with police through a storyline that seems at once natural and mythical. The stories within stories, local music, and tranquil mountainous landscapes are woven into the sad realities facing the villagers. Many elements struck me and will continue to linger in my mind, from the grandmother who, through her actions, teaches her granddaughter strength, courage, discretion, and kindness, to the respect and compassion with which the men and women of the village treat each other. In sharp contrast is the way in which the protagonists are barely treated as citizens within their own homeland, subjected to checkpoints and humiliation. Beyond the typical suspicion and threatening aggression in such scenarios, the reality of cultural oppression is also manifested when the officers make condescending remarks about the villagers’ Kurdish dialect, insisting that they speak in Turkish.

Karabey – both the director and writer – subtly adds complexity to characters in an absurd situation. The villagers in poverty, accused of harboring weapons, are forced to find guns they had never before sought in order to free some of their men from jail. As in any case of human interaction during any given conflict, across all time and space, there will always be a variety of individual behaviors. Of the dominant group asserting its power, some will play along and simply follow orders, others will abuse the system and use it for personal gain, and still others will follow their conscience and show compassion toward the oppressed. Because we see examples of all three behaviors, the film manages to show the humanity in soldiers who find themselves pressured to participate in oppression through a depiction of the system as the root problem, not any one group.

Through personalizing and storytelling, films and media have the power to both raise awareness and change perspectives. The Harmony Institute, a research center that studies the impact of media on individuals and society, acknowledges that impact could take many forms and is often difficult to measure. Nevertheless, the Institute’s studies have shown that character attachment creates a strong emotional experience, and that can make a story an effective means to contributing to social change.

Jonathan Gottschall, Ph.D., explores a unique theoretical perspective of the purpose and impact of storytelling: being able to relate to fictional characters can influence a given attitude more than typical factors such as one’s background and beliefs1,2. This is due to forming judgments about the characters in the same way as we would real people, which then ends up impacting generalizations on those groups or issues. Hence, in the case of Karabey’s film, anyone can relate to the bond between the grandmother and granddaughter and their determination to bring back their missing family member. Gottschall argues that the proliferation of American TV shows and films with likeable characters seems to be a large factor in drastic shifts in American public opinion regarding various groups. Gottschall even believes that fictional characters may effect social change as strongly as direct political action, and certainly more so than nonfiction, when people keep their critical guards up against something clearly meant to persuade them.

As for the film, one turn of events, in particular, really moved me. When the granddaughter decides to take matters into her own hands in order to save another man in the family from danger, a powerful message of love and sacrifice arises. The message is all the more potent and tangible through the tacit understanding between the granddaughter and grandmother that they must take this risk. I can imagine that, whether one has heard nothing of Kurdish people, or only negative depictions, this part of the film would be moving and memorable.

In this ever more interconnected, globalized world, the power of storytelling can help us make sense of news, empathize with people from other cultures, and put a human face on issues to which we would otherwise have trouble relating. It can also make us re-evaluate issues that are familiar to us. Along the same lines, HasNa, through coordinating projects between conflicting communities in Turkey, Cyprus, and Armenia, puts a human face on neglected and misunderstood regions. HasNa’s focus on relatable human needs and desires – from agriculture and business to youth and female empowerment – is what leads to inspired members, progress, and peacebuilding. The impact of individual stories through collaboration is as noteworthy as the impact of the film’s stories, as evidenced by its People’s Choice Award at the Istanbul International Film Festival. There is hope that people everywhere are open to re-shaping their long-held views of socially and economically excluded populations.

HasNa is open to future screenings of this film. Please contact us if you would like to get involved in organizing an event.

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[1] Gottschall, J. (2012) The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

[2] Gottschall, J. (2012, Jun 20). The Power of Fake Gay (and Black) Friends [Web log post]. Retrieved May 29, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog

 

This blog post was contributed by Michelle “Zephyr” Williams, who is currently an intern at HasNa Inc.

HasNa at the DC Turkish Festival 2014

HasNa booth

For the first time this year, HasNa participated in the Turkish Festival organized annually by the DC chapter of the American Turkish Association. We are extremely grateful to Turkish Airlines for providing us with this opportunity, which turned out to be a very pleasant change from our everyday program-related activities! We had free Turkish Delight (known as lokum) at our booth, along with freshly printed postcards with photographs from our programs. But the biggest attraction was the HasNa peace tree, to which numerous people added their personal messages of peace to send out into the world. Amidst all the conflict and mistrust that plagues the world today, watching these people from diverse backgrounds come together and collectively express their wishes for a better, more harmonious world reaffirmed our faith in our mission. We hope to be able to return next year!

Peace Tree

 

Building Bridges, One Word At A Time

In the Classroom

In many ways, intercultural exchange serves as a cushion or catalyst for peace. When two ethnic groups are in a state of conflict, there is a breakdown of communication between them. In such situations, inter-cultural activities provide them with a common space to meet, communicate, and interact. Communication includes both listening and expressing oneself so that the other can hear. Understanding is the first step towards developing empathy, and to be able to empathize with the other is a large step towards reconciliation.

Language is often considered to be one of the most tangible manifestations of culture. By speaking and understanding the language of the other, different ethnic groups are able to expose themselves to each other’s songs, theater, cinema, literature, folklore, and other cultural indicators. They are able to exchange ideas, and express their own feelings with greater ease.

Recognizing this unifying power of language, the NGO Support Center – one of HasNa’s local partners in Nicosia – will offer Turkish language lessons to Greek Cypriots starting from September 3rd, 2014 until May, 2015. Classes will take place every Wednesday from 4:30 to 6:30 PM for Greek-speaking students, and every Thursday, from 5 to 7 PM for English-speaking students. These language classes aim to prepare students for the European Language Framework examinations.

Is the goal of reconciliation merely to repair a relationship that has been damaged or broken, or should it also seek to ensure that there is no further escalation or outbreak of conflict in the future? How else can language skills help towards the mitigation of conflict? It’s an interesting thought, especially in the context of Nelson Mandela’s famous words:

‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

Happy Hour at Madam’s Organ

HasNa’s third annual Happy Hour Fundraiser at Madam’s Organ went off without a hitch. The evening began at 5:00 and the bar was packed by 6:00. We were delighted to spend the evening enjoying great conversation, food, and drinks with everyone.

Click to view photos:

This year we had four special guests at the event. The English teachers from HasNa’s English Training for English Teacher’s Program were here in Washington, DC studying at Georgetown University. They had a wonderful time at Madam’s Organ and expressed how impressed they were by Americans’ spirit of volunteerism.

Our supporters play an integral role in HasNa’s work. The money we raised will help us achieve HasNa’s mission to promote cross-cultural understanding and economic empowerment in culturally divided areas of the world.

We would like to thank all those who attended. And to those who didn’t—we hope to see you next time! We are already excited for next summer’s happy hour at Madam’s Organ.

By Alexsandra Fischer

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